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Opinion & Analysis

What’s your ideal 3-hole start to a round of golf?



I asked my friend and frequent golfing companion Sanders a few weeks ago if he would rather start bogey-birdie-par, or birdie-par-bogey. He gave me a very strange look like maybe I had sat in the sun for too long, or gone too long without making a birdie.

Then he answered, “Doesn’t matter, boss. I’m even par either way.”

“That’s not what I meant,” I tried to explain. “Don’t you think there’s a big difference between opening with a birdie and opening with a bogey? Even if you’re still at the same score after the first three holes.”

He again gave me a quizzical look – and suggested I take a drink of water or better yet, pour a little water over my head to cool down this fine desert morning.

“No, if you’re even par after three holes, that’s your score. It doesn’t matter how you get there,” he said.

“I started birdie, birdie once,” I told him.

“What’d you end up shooting?” Sanders asked.

“I honestly don’t remember,” I said, even though I did remember that I was way over nervous on the third tee and I think I pulled my driver into the trees and made a double there.

“Then you were even after three, so it’s still a good start.”

Tim and Jose were the others in our group that day and so I asked them how they’d like to start.

Tim said he’d like to open birdie, birdie, birdie.

“If you did,” Jose said, “you’d probably double, double, double from there and not even shoot 40 on the front nine.”

“You might be right, but I’d like to try it and find out.”

“I think I’d always rather start with a birdie than a bogey,” Jose said. “There’s never a guarantee if you open with a bogey that you’re ever going to make the birdie to get back to even.”

Finally Sanders seemed interested in the conversation.

“I think if you make about a six-foot bogey putt, maybe with a little break or something you really have to grind on, on No. 1, and then come right back and get a birdie, I think that’s the day you can have a really great round.”

“And if you miss that six-footer for bogey?” I let my voice trail off in the question.

“Don’t get the negative mojo going here,” he snapped, then gave me a look like maybe I needed a beer instead of the water I was chugging.

I thought Sanders maybe isn’t as obsessed about golf as I am, but then he told me:

“I remember my best round ever, a 71,” he said. “I missed a six-foot birdie putt on the first hole and almost three putted it into a bogey. Then I made a 20-footer on the second hole and played great all day. I think it was missing the first birdie putt and then almost missing the two-footer coming back on number one that helped me focus my concentration.”

On a different day at a different course I played with a 35-year-old flag-stick-thin guy who hit the elastomer off the ball. He opened all pars on the first five and I said to him, “You’re off to a good start.”

I guess he didn’t like my talent for understatement or he was just feeling ornery that day. Or maybe it was that he’d been on the first hole, a par-5, in two and three putted for par.

“It’s not how you start,“ he said, “it’s how you play the middle of the round. That’s the key for me, don’t hurt yourself too much in the beginning six holes, then settle into the round and play the next six holes solid. If I can do that, I’m in position, I’m in the mindset to finish strong the last six, and that’s where the round is won or lost.”

I asked him what his best start ever was.

“I eagled No. 1 and birdied No. 2 here a few weeks ago,” and now I realized why he wasn’t particularly happy about his even par open today. “I ended up giving a couple of strokes back but still played good. I wish it had been a skins game.”

While we waited on the No. 6 for the group ahead to putt out on the par-3, I asked if he always played his rounds in six-hole segments.

“No,” he said with a gleam in his eye and a sly smile. “I actually play the round in three-hole segments, six of them. When I play them all in even or one-over par, I’m in the mid-70s where I belong.”

“What happens if you’re two or three over for three holes?” I wondered.

“Then I play the next three holes like it’s its own group again. You have to forget about the bad things that happened and move on to the next opportunity.”

The group in front of us was walking off the green and back to their carts.

“It’s always about what you’re going to do next,” he said. And then he carved a little 6-iron in to about 15 feet.

Saturday I played with Sanders again, and his friends Jeremy and Brock. Brock birdied the first hole, parred the second and bogeyed the third.

I told him there’s nothing wrong with being even par after three.

“I’d rather par the first, bogey the second and then birdie the third,” he said.

What’s your best start ever? Let us know in the comments section below. And check out the inspirational story of one golfer trying to shoot the round of his life at The book is called A Perfect Lie – The Hole Truth and you can get free shipping on the paperback with the code GOLFWRX, or $4 off the e-book when you enter the code GOLFWRX1 at check-out.

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Tom Hill is a 9.7 handicap, author and former radio reporter. Hill is the author of the recently released fiction novel, A Perfect Lie – The Hole Truth, a humorous golf saga of one player’s unexpected attempt to shoot a score he never before thought possible. Kirkus Reviews raved about A Perfect Lie, (It) “has the immediacy of a memoir…it’s no gimme but Hill nails it square.” ( A Perfect Lie is available as an ebook or paperback through and the first three chapters are available online to sample. Hill is a dedicated golfer who has played more than 2,000 rounds in the past 30 years and had a one-time personal best handicap of 5.5. As a freelance radio reporter, Hill covered more than 60 PGA and LPGA tournaments working for CBS Radio, ABC Radio, AP Audio, The Mutual Broadcasting System and individual radio stations around the country. “Few knew my name and no one saw my face,” he says, “but millions heard my voice.” Hill is the father of three sons and lives with his wife, Arava Talve, in southern California where he chases after a little white ball as often as he can.



  1. Chuck Zirkle

    Jan 13, 2016 at 7:55 pm

    12/23/15: Birdie tap in putt, birdie chip in, long birdie putt. Three under. Capped it off with an ace on the fourth hole for five under after four holes. Had to pinch myself. Was up five skins. Shot four under on front nine. A dream three holes and early Christmas present.

  2. Matthew Bacon

    Jan 1, 2016 at 11:54 am

    Bogey Birdie Par

    I’m more likely on the home course for birdie-bogey-par

  3. Patrick

    Dec 31, 2015 at 10:05 am

    The course I belong to has an interesting 3 hole start. The first hole is a 14 handicap hole, the second a 5 handicap and the third is the number one stroke hole. So, the goal is to go even par and one over at the worst. This course has a slope rating of 128 from the white tees so it’s got some forced carries and the wind is a challenge being near an ocean. Until I read the article, I didn’t understand the theme but it’s relevant for certain courses.
    In a tournament my goal is just fairways and greens. Par is a good score and birdies are a bonus. If your a tournament player you’ll know that doubles are killers and sometimes bogeys are acceptable.

  4. Bob Jones

    Dec 30, 2015 at 6:43 pm

    I never worry about a start. Last summer I double-bogied the first hole and shot a 36 for the nine. My best-ever score is a 75, that began at two over after four holes. Play one hole, forget it, and go on to the next one. Add ’em up when the round is over.

  5. Courtney

    Dec 30, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    The ultimate start has to be Karen Stupples’ 2004 Women’s British Open win at Sunningdale. Her first round started Eagle – Double Eagle. Her caddy/husband said, “we might as well shoot 59” after those first two holes.

  6. Aaron

    Dec 30, 2015 at 10:58 am

    So apparently not liking the article and commenting in such a fashion gets your comment pulled?! Hey WRX management what’s wrong with not liking your content at times? Shouldn’t that help you to understand your demographic and prepare articles that are more in line with your reader’s interests? My comment contained no vulgarity, or any level of inappropriateness but rather a statement that reflected my opinion that the premise and substance of this article is dumb. I stand by the statement that this is the dumbest article I have ever read on here and I am disappointed that commenting my view was “censored” by removal. This site is supposed to be about dialogue and at times disagreement on things “golf”. Instead of removing someone’s point of view maybe you could offer a counter point that could be used to have a discussion???

    • devilsadvocate

      Jan 1, 2016 at 12:22 pm

      Lol u mad bro? Why wouldn’t they let you say you thought the article was “stupid”?? Obviously that contributes so much insight and depth to the conversation!! These simple-minded editors have not the stomach for true philosophical analysis or debate!!

  7. Double Mocha Man

    Dec 29, 2015 at 11:42 am

    I like to start off eagle, eagle, hole-in-one. Then I can relax, skate in and finish around 80.

  8. Jeff*

    Dec 28, 2015 at 5:46 pm

    Really doesn’t matter, because the next shot is all I can control. So on the first tee, I’m just thinking how lucky I am to be playing golf, the only thing I can do is to focus on my routine, tempo, set up, and that gives me the best chance at hitting the best possible next shot. That’s what it’s all about for me.

  9. Stickburn

    Dec 28, 2015 at 4:57 pm

    3 holes increments? I look at the game completely different.

    I shoot 67 everytime I play. Once I hit 67 I am finished. So instead of seeing how low I can go for 18 holes I try to see how far I can get. Kind of like a pitch count for a pitcher coming off a rehab assignment.

    • Double Mocha Man

      Dec 29, 2015 at 11:46 am

      So Stickburn, if you played Pebble Beach from the back tees and achieved your 67 after hole #10 you’d walk in the full mile and a half?

    • Rob

      Dec 29, 2015 at 2:24 pm

      I’m sure the courses you play at love that you end your “round” after hole #13

  10. Wreiman

    Dec 28, 2015 at 2:21 pm

    On my normal course I’m good with par, par, bogey. If I’m on top of my game, it could easily be par, bird, par, But the later is my normal. I find if I and in that mode , the round will be pretty good. The other week I was even par on the first holes… then doubled my way into the clubhouse before a few beers stopped the bleeding…

  11. Jamie

    Dec 28, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    Started off Par-Par-Par just a few weeks ago…and thought that maybe it would be a great cold weather round. I proceeded to fall apart on hole # 6 after 3 putting and wrecked #7. Mentally I think 3 hole segments are a great idea…you try to win each segment as opposed to focusing on the round as a whole.

  12. Jam

    Dec 28, 2015 at 11:28 am

    It completely depends on the golf course, especially if you play competitively. Each hole has to be played as an individual and separate golf tournament. Difficult to do, but the best way to be successful.

  13. Jack

    Dec 28, 2015 at 2:07 am

    Yeah I like the 3 hole segments. The 1 hole segments just becomes a 9 hole torture fest. Going to try this next time.

  14. ooffa

    Dec 27, 2015 at 10:03 pm

    Well that’s it. Golfwrx has finally run out of things to write about. They had a nice run though. I hate to see it end like this.

  15. Double Mocha Man

    Dec 27, 2015 at 6:12 pm

    I play 18 holes in 1 hole segments.

  16. jakeanderson

    Dec 27, 2015 at 6:12 pm

    i usually start with three birdies and close in with 15 birdies. if you play worse than that, you really should not even bother.

  17. Hack lefty

    Dec 27, 2015 at 2:29 pm

    Best three hole start ever was birdie, eagle, par. Thought I was high on drugs or someone spiked my Gatorade, went on to shoot 86 haha

  18. DK

    Dec 27, 2015 at 1:03 pm

    Uh, that would be BIRDIE – BIRDIE – BIRDIE

  19. Ronald Montesano

    Dec 27, 2015 at 12:28 pm

    I’m a personal and professional fan of the three-hole increments. Even if you play one shot at a time, you should still be aware of how you stand. When I coach high school golfers (female and male) I follow the same procedure with them.

    We came by this honestly because our boys used to play a three-hole, match-play formula (for a point each set) plus a nine-hole point: four points per match. The fellows were forced to go three by three by three. Some grasped the notion, while others struggled. Next season, we’ll switch scoring systems to a nine-hole, medal score, eliminating the head-to-head aspect. I’m hoping that the fellows will still focus on the three-hole segments.

    • Alfredo Smith

      Dec 30, 2015 at 11:29 am

      Ronald that scoring format sounds delicious! You can loose the first 2 segments by being down by two, then win three holes (7,8 &9) and be one up, for the 9 holes, thus splitting the match. With 4 ways to score it gives you multiple ways to get the juices flowing!

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